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Address to social and community sector workers, Sydney
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ADDRESS TO SOCIAL AND COMMUNITY SECTOR WORKERS
AUSTRALIAN TECHNOLOGY PARK, SYDNEY
THURSDAY 10 NOVEMBER 2011
It is wonderful to be here today with so many good leaders and hard workers, leaders in the union movement, social and community sector workers of course my friends and colleagues Tanya Plibersek and Senator Jacinta Collins.
Many old friends and new friends, hard working Aussies all.
You don’t need to be an expert on the social and community sector workforce to know this:
You are among the hardest working Australians.
You are mostly women.
And it is time you got equal pay.
All across our nation, you work in women’s refuges and in disability support centres.
You manage family support services, you lead teams of professionals who counsel victims of sexual assault.
You’re in charge of homes for homeless men and the mentally ill.
You’re counsellors, social workers and therapists.
Community development workers and specialist care and support workers.
More than three quarters of you women.
Nearly two thirds of you have an industry qualification - compared to just over half in other industries.
But your average full-time wage is just over $46 000 per year - compared to around $58 000 for all working Australians.
A gender-driven pay gap which sees, for example, a Disability Support Worker with a tertiary qualification who supervises five staff get paid less than $38 000 a year.
You have above average qualifications, you get below average pay.
This is something Labor’s fair work system can fix.
On 19 March 2009, more than two and a half years ago, your Parliament passed the Fair Work Act into law.
A law which put Work Choices in the grave, a law which brought balance to Australian workplaces.
A law only a Labor government would enact.
We established Fair Work Australia.
We delivered ten national employment standards in law.
We created a modern award system.
With a new way to set the minimum wage which is fair to low-paid workers.
And fair minimum conditions like penalty rates and overtime that cannot be stripped away.
We gave people the right to be represented by their union.
The right to bargain in a system where employers and employees would get a fair go.
We created a new bargaining stream for low-paid workers who had been locked out of the benefits of collective bargaining.
We gave 2.8 million more Australians protection from unfair dismissal.
We ended Australian Workplace Agreements, the individual statutory employment agreements that had ripped off so many hard working Australians.
And we broadened the definition of pay equity to allow real progress in closing the gender pay gap.
Friends, these are things only a Labor government would do.
And Labor’s agenda for working people has gone further.
Delivering paid parental leave for new parents to stay at home.
Lifting the childcare rebate for families who need help.
Lifting family payments for parents of teenagers.
Cutting tax for middle- and low-income families.
Increasing the pension and legislating higher super for better living standards for Australians when they retire.
Above all keeping the economy growing, supporting and creating jobs.
Over seven hundred thousand jobs have been created since Labor came to office, over 120 000 in the last year.
We have exposed the conservative lie that you have to choose: That you can have penalty rates and overtime, protection from unfair dismissal and parental leave entitlements - or you can have growth and jobs - but not both.
And we have brought those real benefits to working Australians’ lives.
Each of these achievements was delivered with these goals in mind:
To ensure every Australian shares in the benefits that a strong economy brings. To spread opportunity to all, to ensure our changing economy leaves no one behind.
Fairness at work is vital to Australian families.
We can never have fairness at work if work is not fair for women.
Or for the men who work alongside them in sectors like yours.
So when Labor came to office I was determined to make real progress in closing the gender pay gap.
A gap which is now so great, with full-time working women earning on average one fifth less than men full-time, that it is as if women work nearly seven weeks every year for free.
A gap driven, in considerable part, by the way our society and economy have traditionally undervalued female-dominated occupations.
For too long society has undervalued the work women do.
Federal equal remuneration provisions were first introduced in Australia in 1994.
But those equal remuneration provisions were strictly limited to considering work of equal value.
By the time of the Fair Work Act sixteen applications had been made in the federal system, sixteen applications had failed.
It had become clear that Federal law set a test which had proved impossible to meet.
So in the Fair Work Act I was determined to change this.
By 2008, some state legislation, like that in Queensland, already employed a wider test.
And so in the Fair Work Act we consciously adopted a wider test, mirroring those like Queensland’s.
To deliver a right to equal pay for work of comparable value, not just the rigid old equal value test.
In 2009, Queensland’s legislation saw a landmark decision of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.
And encouraged by that decision, and by the Fair Work Act, you and your unions, led by the Australian Services Union, made this important gender pay equity application to Fair Work Australia.
Supported by the Heads of Agreement I signed with the ASU when I was Minister for Workplace Relations.
This year, our new laws and the case brought by your unions have allowed a sensible comparison between different kinds of work in different parts of the national economy.
In May, Fair Work Australia found that workers in your sector do not get equal pay with people who do comparable work.
And Fair Work Australia indicated it would seek further submissions to allow it to determine an appropriate remedy.
Understand: this equal pay test case is no “unintended consequence” of the new system.
This has given us exactly what we wanted, exactly what I hoped for.
The chance for a fair decision, based on fair evidence, by Fair Work Australia, that yes, the people who work in your female-dominated sector have long been underpaid.
And yes, you have been underpaid because you are mostly women.
This case creates an opportunity for governments and unions, employees and providers to put our heads together, to agree on a fair value and of course to agree on where the money will come from.
It’s not an opportunity this Labor Government will miss.
This is the good news I have come here to tell you today.
Nearly twenty years since those first equal remunerations provisions were introduced.
Nearly three years since the Fair Work Act passed.
Two years since your unions brought your case.
Six months since Fair Work Australia found that you are not paid fairly.
And after hundreds of hours of detailed discussions between the various parties.
The Federal Government and the Australian Services Union now have agreement on a way forward.
A way forward to deliver fair pay for caring workers covered by this case.
Friends, today I can announce that the Australian Government will join with the Australian Services Union to make a joint submission to Fair Work Australia in the Social and Community Sector equal remuneration case.
That means together we will argue for rates of pay that fairly and properly value social and community sector work, for rates of pay which don’t discriminate and which finally end decades of unequal pay.
Other unions will join us and we expect major providers will do the same, to support this before Fair Work Australia’s Full Bench.
If, through its own rigorous and independent processes, the Full Bench now agrees to the remedy we propose, here’s how it will work.
Social and community sector workers covered by this case will be paid new, fair pay rates, based on the convincing evidence of gender pay imbalance given in this case.
When fully implemented, this should deliver pay rates comparable to those awarded by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission in its landmark 2009 case.
And in the joint submission, the Federal Government will clearly state that we will fund our share of the pay rises which flow from the Full Bench’s final decision.
More than 150 000 people - including 120 000 women - work in the sector.
Our decision will fund our share of very significant pay rises for these workers right across Australia.
We will make a regulation to ensure that eligible Queensland workers receive their share of these pay increases as well.
And we will propose that the fair pay increases start on 1 December next year - and be gradually phased-in over six years.
Our decision comes at a cost to the Federal Budget of over $2 billion over the full phase-in period.
The States and Territories should also do the right thing.
To support properly valued rates of pay, to pay their share of the cost.
And providers can play a role in urging the States to pay their full share.
All Governments must meet their share of the funding responsibility -- but our commitment is not conditional on the decisions other Governments now take.
Because we believe in equal pay - we know this is the right thing to do.
We will deliver our share of funding for caring workers covered by this case.
We will do our part for equal pay.
We will also fund these pay rises responsibly.
We will make the necessary decisions to find the financial room - under our strict fiscal discipline, the additional expenditure for the Commonwealth will be fully offset.
The States and Territories share funding responsibility as well.
As I have said, our decision does not depend on the States and Territories doing the right thing.
The Federal Government recognises the budget pressures the States and Territories face.
But we know you are working Australians who face budget pressures too.
You have waited long enough to get equal pay.
The evidence given to Fair Work Australia in this case is remarkable. The benefits if Fair Work Australia agrees are very great too.
One witness, I will call “Natalie”. Natalie helps people who are mentally ill, children and young people needing out of home care and people living with a disability.
She helps them learn to live independently when they move from long-term hospital-based care to community-based living.
Natalie is currently paid $41 648 per year. When fully implemented, her fair pay will be around $55 000 in today’s dollars.
Another witness, I will call “Michelle”. Michelle has a law degree and a degree in youth affairs.
She works full time at a community legal centre, managing the legal and financial counselling programs, supervising seven staff and numerous volunteers - as well as providing legal advice directly to clients.
Michelle is currently paid just $49,500. When fully implemented, her fair pay will be around $66,000 in today’s dollars.
We will deliver very significant pay rises to hard-working Australians.
Not just equal pay or fair pay, higher pay.
Higher take-home pay for tens of thousands of working people and their families.
At a time when in every family, every dollar counts.
This historic joint submission will now go before Fair Work Australia’s Full Bench.
The Government and unions will ask the Full Bench to confirm that the agreement meets the legislative requirements.
We will ask Fair Work Australia to agree to fair pay for caring workers covered by this case and in turn to declare, that the days are coming to an end when the work of women is valued less because it is women’s work.
Friends, the best way to keep our economy strong is to keep people in work.
The best way to keep our society fair is to keep work fair as well.
Labor showed in the global financial crisis that we can have a growing economy and support and create jobs, while protecting Australians’ rights at work.
Labor’s approach to fairness at work has been good for our country in the past.
And the plan I have announced today is an example of how it should be in the future as well.
Unions, employers and the Government working together.
Negotiating in good faith, based on the best evidence, working together to find the best way to reward hard work.
Accepting the decision of the independent umpire.
This is our fair work system functioning as it should.
As a guarantee of fairness for all.
As a driver of productivity growth and future prosperity.
So we sustain growth and so we keep creating jobs.
These new measures I announce today will be good for our country as well.
Because we are Labor, we will deliver fairness for Australian women.
Today is a great step forward on the path to equal pay.
And because we are Labor, we govern for all, we govern for working Australians.
Today is a great step forward for tens of thousands of hard working people.
I know many working people struggle to make ends meet.
This is why Labor in Government has delivered real benefits to middle- and low-income families.
Tax cuts, pension increases, higher family payments, increased super.
And now, through this announcement today: fair and equal pay.
And I also know that nothing is more important to working Australians than work itself.
The dignity of work and the benefits of work.
Because the value of work is at the centre of every family budget and it is at the centre of Labor's decision-making and vision for the future too.
The future of our economy - of an economy of jobs and growth.
The future of our workplaces and families as well - of an economy that serves working people.
Where their Government is on their side - managing the economy in the interests of all.
In a country where working people share in the benefits that a strong economy brings.
Working Australians can only be sure of these good things when the Government is on their side.
Working Australians can only be sure the Government is on their side when the Government is Labor.